Abu Dhabi GP: Friday Press Conference Part 1


Can I start by asking all of you to pick our personal highlight moment from the 2017 Formula 1 season?

Toto Wolff: My personal highlight was the birth of my son, this goes beyond anything else. My Formula 1 highlight is probably Hungary, which for me was a very difficult race and very difficult decision-making at the end of the race but somehow was important to reconfirm the values of the team.

Maurizio Arrivabene: Hungary, for different reasons. Then I have to say also Monaco. Monaco was a quite good race. But Hungary in my opinion was the best. I have to add also Brazil, because in Brazil, when the championship was gone, I think the team demonstrated character and also they reacted quite well and so, if I have to make a choice, Brazil finally, for the reasons I described before.

Christian Horner: Well, it's been a year of births all round, so earlier in the year being able to witness my son born earlier in the year in January. Then, probably Max's overtake on Lewis, because we haven't seen it much, to win the Malaysian Grand Prix. Yeah, that was a pretty sweet moment.

OK, thank you. Toto, four consecutive Drivers' and Constructors' titles, the same as Christian managed a few years back. So only one question: can you keep it going in 2018, or were the problems that you encountered this year a warning sign that the tide is beginning to turn?
TW: I think the years before were outliers. We managed to have a really good package together, between chassis and power unit, and this year what we have seen on track, the fight between the three teams, is probably becoming more the reality for the years to come. The most important thing is to stay humble, feet on the ground, not take winning for granted but on the contrary, respect the others, respect they job they are doing and if you win in adverse conditions it's even sweeter. In so far, our expectations for next year are to have a competitive car again, win races again and be in the fight for the championship.

And Christian, Max is the highest points scorer over the past five races, even ahead of Hamilton. Is that a sign of what's to come in 2018?
CH: Yeah, the problem is that the championship is over 20 races this year so...! The last five have been good for him. Obviously we want to try to take that momentum into 2018 and so, yeah, the recent couple of months have been quite rewarding.

Maurizio, five wins and five poles, that's more than Ferrari have managed for quite a few seasons now. So is there satisfaction in that or sadness that the title slipped away from you in September and October?
MA: Of course the number of pole positions and so on they are important somehow but the most important is the championship. The good number that we have at the moment is demonstrating the good job of the overall team but the fact that we were not able to win the championship means that it's not enough, so we have to push forward to next year to do it better.

A final question from me: if you think back 12 months to when we were here in Abu Dhabi and think about how much has changed in the sport since then, and then project forward to November 2018, where do you think Formula 1 will be at that point. Toto?
TW: Well, 12 months ago Bernie was around. We miss the odd hand grenade flying through the paddock, but this is new times and what we need to do is support the new owners and the management to grow Formula 1. I wouldn't want to predict what will be in 12 months from now. There are quite some things that have been kicked off, some good, some less so to us, but most importantly we are all stakeholders of this fantastic sport and coming back in 12 months I would like to wish that this sport is growing in audiences, growing in fan appeal and that's basically it.

MA: I think we have for sure a good sign of renovation, of commitment, demonstrated by the new commercial rights holder, so for sure we have some positive news. For sure, we are focusing a bit more our attention on the spectators - television and also the spectators at the track. They are quite proactive but the problem is to find the right balance between team needs and commercial needs, talking in general. But I think we have a good sign that they are telling us that the future could be a good future for Formula 1.

And Christian...
CH: I think if you reflect on the last 12 months, as Toto says, many things have changed. This time last year Bernie was still running the show. Obviously in January the business was sold and a new management structure came into place. I think what's been quite interesting and quite dynamic about that is that there has been a steep learning curve for the new guys involved but they have embraced ideas, concepts; they've come with a very fresh, unbiased approach and while they have been going through a learning phase, a building phase over the last nine or ten months, a lot of things that may seem trivial have changed - just how we deal on a day-to-day basis. I think what is going to be fascinating is to see the lessons that been made this year, the infrastructure that's been put in place, the people that have recruited, how that's going to affect future years, because it's not going to be just next year, it's going to be the next three to five years. I would certainly hope that in 12 months' time we are sitting here with all of our drivers in contention for a world championship and for it to go right down to the wire. Toto has had it far too easy the last four years and hopefully Ferrari and Red Bull can give a much harder time next year.

Questions From The Floor

Q: (Ysef Harding - Xiro Xone News) For all three, we often ask the drivers this at the end of the season, but what do you have planned for the end of the season and what will you look forward to in the short time we'll have off before next season?
TW: What we have planned? Unfortunately there is not really an off-season anymore. The car build is happening as we speak, trying to put the final developments on the launch spec. There is a part of the factory that is almost 24-7 at the moment. There is no downtime between the end of the season and the start of the season. Probably the only time we have it a little bit easier is between Christmas and New Year, we send the office staff on holiday but everybody else if pretty much flat out during that time as well.

MA: I thought that Toto was giving some information about what they are doing, but he is smart enough and didn't give us any information, unfortunately. Having said so, I agree that there is not anymore an off-season. We are working all the time, especially when you have to work on the gap that we still have, so you have certain people, the people that they are all year at the track, for example, the guys who are working during the grand prix, they are taking a bit of vacation, not that much, and all the others they are still working on the new car.

And yourselves? Are you going to take some time off, are you going to have a holiday?
MA: I don't think so. Maybe Christmas but I'm not even sure. But I don't like to sit for hours at the table, to be obliged to talk to people, to be nice. One day. Fine, I have to do it, but I don't eventually like it.

TW: You're not into talking.

MA: No.

TW: Well, I'll pretend to look at the young driver test next week and stay here with my family for two days on the beach and then have two days off. And during Christmas and New Year - as an Austrian you have to go for a ski, hopefully not injure myself this year.

What could possibly go wrong? And Christian, how about you, are you going to take some time off?
CH: Yeah, we're all going to Toto's; we're just debating which hours - the summer house or the winter chalet, where to go. There's a month between now and Christmas and while the operation side of things comes to a close on Wednesday this week, after the test, back in the factory the design and production side of the business is all running flat chat. So there are commercial things to get tied up between now and the end of the year. So usually you're flat out right up until just before Christmas. Then you break up for Christmas; then you get ill. Yeah, I'm looking forward to Christmas with the family and yeah, then before you know it it's new year and away you go.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi - Las Gazzetta dello Sport) A question for all of you, it's about what we heard today that there is a McLaren issue about the fin and if you talked to your technician about that and if you are worried for the overall picture of the cars next year?
CH: A month of so ago we had a meeting and I though we all agreed that we were going to leave the fin as it was and stick the number there. And then in usual fashion we left the meeting and things changed and Zak decided he couldn't see his rear wing - he's obviously signed a major sponsor for next year and he's trying to get as much coverage as he can, so McLaren presented another variant. The problem is that the aerodynamicists then looked at it and said "well, that screws up the rear wing, so we don't want that". So I'm not quite sure, as we sit here, what we got. I think it goes back to what's in the regulation, which is no fin and so we have to just work out where to stick the number. Maybe we'll have another chat and see if we can persuade Zak this weekend to put the fin back.

TW: I personally hate the fin.

CH: You've got one driving for you!

TW: True, not all fins! I personally think it ruins the shape of the car. Obviously it has an aerodynamic purpose and some cars benefit more from having the fin and have more stability and more crosswind instability, but overall it's not the nicest of elements in general.

Maurizio, what about you, you've also got a Finn in the car, do you want one on the car?
MA: I'm quite neutral. I'm waiting for a decision. What is quite funny is that Zak said that the fin was interfering with the rear win, and in the meantime he said he would like to have more commercial space. So somehow he is removing the fin and doesn't have anymore that commercial space, and on top he needs to find space for the number, so I think there is something wrong here.

TW: You se what we talk about in the Strategy Group...

Q: (Arjan Schouten - AS Sportweld) For Christian: Max told us after Brazil that Renault switched the power of the engine into a bit safer mode, with a bit less power. Any signals that it will be a similar case here or will it be last race, risk it all?
CH: I think obviously after the events of Mexico you can understand Renault being a bit nervous in Brazil, which is also a quite high altitude race. But coming here, last race of the year, nothing to gain or lose in the Constructors' or Drivers' championship, I think we should go for it with both cars, and hopefully that will be the approach of our engine supplier too.

Q: (Heikki Kulta - Turun Sanomat) Maurizio, talking about the Finns...
MA: You have Bottas too!

Check out our Friday gallery from Yas Island, here.

Q: (Heikki Kulta - Turun Sanomat) Yes, but do you think Kimi is the unluckiest driver on the grid after 94 races without a single victory?
MA: I don't trust on luck or not luck, even if I'm Italian. I trust on fact and fact means points. Bad luck or good luck is not influencing this. Sometimes it could be in terms of perception or because maybe other drivers are crashing on his car, the final reality is the points you are scoring and this is what is making a driver good or bad. We are happy about the performance of Kimi, by the way, otherwise we are not confirming him.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) How concerned are the three of you that the overall revenue and team payments appear to have gone down under the new owners - and how confident are you that they'll go back up again?
CH: Well, inevitably as they've invested in an infrastructure their costs have gone up. The model that they have, compared to the previous management, obviously is significant different - but perhaps, in the world that we live in, it's appropriate for where the commercial rights holder wants to take the sport. So it's inevitable that they've got to invest. At the same time revenues are slightly affected by Malaysia not renewing, etc., but I think the rights holder made a very generous offer to those teams that want to take it to effectively advance monies to ensure that the money next year available to the teams is the same as this year and the latest forecast, on an interest-free basis. They've offered to basically fund that bridge for those teams that wish to take it. So, and of course, when you're building a structure, you've got to invest in that. Obviously, they've moved premises, they've moved offices, they're running a different ship to how Bernie operated it. Bernie was the salesman, he was a one-man show, which was always going to be unsustainable because there was no individual that could single-handedly replace him. So, I think with the structure that's been put into place, hopefully dividends and benefit will come - but it's going to be a little bit further down the road. Probably we're looking at 2019, 2020 and particularly 2021 before we're going to see the fruits of their investment.

Do you see it the same way Toto?
TW: The question is where does investment come from. Is it the prize fund or... when you invest, are you raising capital and you make a rights issue and dilute the shareholders, or do you dilute the teams? I don't know. To be discussed. But as a matter of fact, they are in the first year. I think year number one needs to be a honeymoon period after Bernie. We are maybe also a little bit spoilt, because over the last ten years at least I've been around, we had a growing prize fund, every single year we could rely on a per cent or two at worst; at best ten per cent and in so far, we have been also relying and building our structures. You need to support them, because it is our joint platform, and grant them this period and then hopefully see the hockey stick business plan is actually coming to fruition, and this is a dip; a momentary dip that we see, and hopefully it's going to grow again soon.

Maurizio, your view?
MA: I think for sure they were not investing so much money to have a sport that is falling down. After one year it is not easy to judge. I know that early December they want to present to us their plan for the future. I hope there is going to be at least a three-year plan. So, this year we were a bit together, a bit. We were together with them to support, to work and to try to build up the future but, as Toto mentioned, as Christian mentioned, it was the first year. It's not easy to judge - yet. We need to sit down with them and see, and to look at their business plan for the next few years and then we can have a judgement of a clear picture of where we want to go. Where Formula One wants to go.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Maurizio, given where you ended last season, being contenders for the championship and then losing it, how would you summarise the season and what can you realistically aim for next year?
MA: To summarise the season, if you want to have a quick summary and want to use the example of the glass of water - don't like wine - mid-season we were thirsty, and end-of-season we were using the water because we take a pill because we have a bit of headache - and that's the summary of the season. Apart from that I think the team was pushing pushing, really hard. They were working well. We have certain circumstances that they were not in our favour. I have to say congratulations to Mercedes. They won and they deserved the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships. For next year we try to do our best to be better.

Q: (Louis Dekker - NOS.nl) For all three. Do you agree with me that Kimi, Valtteri and Daniel need a victory more than their team-mates? And, to Christian, is it possible for Red Bull to win this race, after today, after today's test, do you think?
CH: The opposition looked very strong. I think we'll be stronger on a Sunday than we are on a Saturday - but that's not unusual this season. Daniel's already had a victory this year, I'm sure he'd like to add to that but yeah, obviously, we'll be doing the best we can to finish the season on as high a note as possible.

TW: Yeah, certainly Valtteri would want a victory. He had a rough time after the summer break and recovered - but Lewis has been very good today, again. He is in an extremely good place and after Friday it's difficult to judge. Maurizio normally on Saturday goes up a lot in performance and, as Christian said, they are pretty strong in the race. And when you look at the long runs today, again it's very close together. It's a tenth or two, depending who's in the car.

MA: Talking about Kimi, if you look today at the long run, he's in quite good shape - but we know that it depends on how, if Sebastian was pushing at the limit or not. It depends if my friends here, Red Bull and Mercedes, they were pushing or not - but I think, talking about Kimi, Kimi today was in quite good shape.

Q: (Dan Knutson - Auto Action / Speed Sport) A question for Christian: traditionally a Toro Rosso driver has moved up to Red Bull. You have Max for three years, you want Daniel for three years, you have Carlos waiting in the wings, so what is Red Bull's plans for Pierre and Brendon? Where can they go for three years, or even beyond?
CH: Well they can stay where they are, at Toro Rosso, as things develop there; we can do what we've done with Carlos Sainz and make them available to other teams. So I think, for us, it's all about having options and investing in talent and youth. Red Bull this year has gone as young as investing in kart racing drivers, at 13 and 14 years of age. We have some exciting talent in Formula 4, and it will continue to invest in that young talent. One of our young drivers won the Macao Grand Prix last weekend, so yeah, the Junior Programme's working well but if there's not room within Red Bull Racing, which hopefully there won't be, for at least the next couple of years, then if the drivers have the opportunity to further their careers, we're not adverse to making them available to other teams.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Referring to James' question earlier on about Liberty, etc., what was the one key standout point that they brought to Formula One this year, in each of your opinions, and also, what is the one major point you'd like to see them bring out next year?
MA: As I said at the beginning, they focus their attention on 'spectacularisation', to go nearby the spectator at the track, and also TV spectator. They demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm and commitment. Now, I think, for next year, we have a meeting in December where they're going to present what they have in mind, and at that stage we can have a conversation with them and eventually a suggestion. I don't want to suggest anything without knowing what they have in mind - I would like to talk about what, until today, I think they were doing. For sure they're pushing. It depends on what they want to do in the future. First year, it's normally easy, because you start from a certain point: you have a lot of expectation and you go up. The second year, you have to prove you are solid and you are looking forward at least for the future. And the future is not one year, it's at least, normally in the company, it's a three-year plan.

TW: I think what stands out for me is opening up on the social media rights: that is the first thing they did at the beginning of the season and it gave us more possibilities and more visibility. I come from a financial universe. For me, it would be interesting for me to see how the business case, what the vision on the business case is and how the numbers will come together.

CH: I think so many things have opened up, whether it be the digital platform, whether it be access, etcetera, etcetera. I think we've all felt that - probably the standout moment for me was the investment that they made in the promotion they did in the UK, in London, the Trafalgar event where they had 19 of the 20 drivers there, all the cars running, a completely free event and pop concert for the fans to come and engage with Formula One. So, I think that was a pretty big thing they put on this year.

Something you'd like to see next year?
CH: It's going to be very interesting. I think in December we're going to dit down and hear what their plans are for the next 12 months and the season ahead. So I think it will be with great interest that we sit and listen to what plans they have.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question for Maurizio and Toto: I would like to ask you which is the strength about your rival that you want to be in your team? And for Christian, if you are a little bit surprised that Sebastian made some mistakes. I mean Singapore and Mexico.
TW: Wasn't it a question to Maurizio first? I could have two minutes to think about it! Ferrari is a fantastic brand and has been in Formula One forever. There's lot of passion and emotion around the brand, and you can see the racing team, they're very passionate but on the other side we are very passionate about it too. So, there isn't a thing that comes into my mind where I would say 'this is what I want'. We have great respect for them, I have great respect for Maurizio and what he's been able to achieve with his team and they are great rivals.

MA: I think, how you tend to respect the team that have won four Constructors' Championships and four Drivers' Championships. It's normal that they are strong. For that I have a lot of respect but it could be even better if we're able next year to fight with them and finally to win! Having said so, I think one of the strengths of Mercedes, apart from the brand they're representing, how the team is organised, it's also their habit to win. Sometimes you are going to have a pole position and it's becomes an event. Pole position must become a habit and not an event. This is what I mean for a habit to win. It doesn't have to be perceived as an event, the victory, or the pole position. It must be the natural result of the work that you are doing. In this way, I have a lot of respect for this guy but in this way, we know what we have to do for the future in our side.

And finally, Christian, Sebastian's starts in Singapore and Mexico. You worked with him for many years, were you surprised by the way that went?
CH: I think they were racing accidents: they just seemed to involve our driver alongside him. It was just coincidence. Sebastian's a great racer and he's driven a very strong campaign this year. I can only imagine it might be something to do with a bonus: maybe it's not as generous at Ferrari as it is at Red Bull for finishing races but no, I think it was racing incidents that happened and just coincidence that Max was there on both occasions.

Check out our Friday gallery from Yas Island, here.

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Published: 24/11/2017
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